With the release of Harrison Ford’s final Indiana Jones film, The Dial of Destiny, the saga is officially over. But before we put all five movies in a museum, let’s take a look back. Below, The News84Media ranks Dr. Jones’ adventures from the worst to the best. It’s a franchise that helped define the summer blockbuster and represented some of the best work of creators George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Ford — who will probably be forever more closely identified with his intrepid archaeologist than any other character from his career.
But since we’re starting at the bottom, that can only mean that we must first discuss…
5. The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
A hokey ramshackle mess. Everything about the fourth film feels weirdly distant off somehow; slathered in a CG haze. Even the glossy cinematography by the usually stellar Janusz Kaminski manages to make scenes that were shot outdoors look like they’re inside a studio, while the less that’s said about Indy’s son Mutt (Shia LaBeouf) and his Tarzan swing the better (in fairness to LaBeouf, one suspects no actor could have made his character work as written). In other Indy movies, you try to pick out the best sequence; here, it’s a fight for the worst (most pick the infamous “nuke the fridge” scene; my choice is the cemetery brawl with the parkour warriors — because you didn’t even remember that one, did you?). An Indy film’s MacGuffin might not be the most important element, but it’s not unimportant either, and Dr. Jones’ quest for an alien artifact leads to a groaner of climactic sequences and some franchise-worst effects to top it all off. It’s the only film of the five that feels like a slog.
4. The Dial of Destiny (2023)
Not as bad as the Cannes buzz suggested, yet not nearly as good as fans had hoped, Dial of Destiny represents a clear step up from Crystal Skull while still ranking below the original trilogy. The de-aged Indy opening sequence is surprisingly decent and the film effectively shuffles along for most of its run, with Phoebe Waller-Bridge bringing some bright energy as Indy’s goddaughter Helena Shaw and Mads Mikkelsen ever-watchable as villain Jürgen Voller. Ford is compelling when he’s given something to do, although Indy sometimes feels like a frustratingly passive character. But after two hours of teasing the idea of Indiana Jones traveling back in time, the payoff is letdown. Instead of revisiting, for instance, a moment from Indy’s storied past — it’s so easy to imagine Voller wanting to use the Dial to get the Ark of the Covenant during Indy’s Raiders adventure, or the Holy Grail during Last Crusade, to accomplish his goal of helping the Nazis win World War II — we instead are transported to an ancient Roman battle the audience doesn’t care about. Even Voller’s plan of traveling to 1939 to kill Hitler was a more exciting idea, and for the big climax Voller and Indy are separated and left with nothing to do – except perish in a plane crash and get punched out, respectively. (“Continental drift!” should be adopted as a term for whenever a movie or TV show takes an abrupt, disappointing turn). Ultimately, Indy is left in a fine place, yet one wishes the filmmakers could use a Dial of Destiny to go back and rework the film’s third act.
3. The Temple of Doom (1984)
Temple of Doom has been criticized (including by Lucas and Spielberg) as being overly dark (its release helped inspire the PG-13 rating), and there are indeed moments that feel like they cross the line for what these movies are supposed to be (like that whipping scene). It’s also been justifiably criticized as leaning heavily on offensive racial stereotypes as Indy stumbles onto a child-enslaving Thuggee cult in India. Many also find Kate Capshaw’s shrieking Willie Scott off-putting. It’s tough to transition from all these elements to an “and yet…” but…and yet…when the film works, it has some of the best sequences in the franchise: The nightclub opener, the raft escape from a crashing plane, the will-they-or-won’t-they seduction scene, the spike room, the climactic bridge showdown — all terrific, and Ke Huy Quan’s Short Round is occasionally winsome too. Many outlets are placing Dial of Destiny above Temple of Doom on their ranking, but there’s nothing in it Dial more exciting than moments like “no one’s flying the plane!” or “prepare to meet Kali — in hell!(Admittedly helping matters: Ford is peak Hot Indy in this one.)
2. The Last Crusade (1989)
The Last Crusade is many Indy fans favorite of the bunch, and it’s easy to see why. The film is a delight — the warmest and funniest in the franchise — with a deft and witty script by Jeffrey Boam. Sean Connery is spot-on as Indy’s father, Henry Jones, and their interplay is at turns playful and touching (after Henry uses his umbrella to compel birds to strike an attacking fighter plane, the expression on Indy’s face as he’s silently overwhelmed by unexpected love for his father gets me every time). The score is one of John Williams’ best. The Last Crusade also has the strongest ending in the franchise, with its three-challenge booby traps and a feeling of genuine urgency with Henry’s life on the line (even factoring in the ridiculousness of the Crusade Knight — the film is a bit too goofy at times). Henry finally calling his son “Indiana” and gently telling him to let the Holy Grail go is one of the saga’s loveliest beats, and their extended sunset ride over the closing credits is so idyllic and gorgeous that arguably nobody should have attempted to make another Indiana. Jones film after this one.
1. Raiders of the Lost Ark
Raiders of the Lost Ark is the closest you can find to a perfect action film. After his WWII comedy 1941 bombed, Spielberg was out to re-prove himself to Hollywood and it shows: Every scene is impeccable, starting with the opening temple raid that became one of the most iconic (and parodied) sequences in movie history. Ford deftly balances gravity and humor, demonstrating at turns competence and fallibility, as Indy struggles — and fails, time and time again — yet stubbornly refuses to quit. There are so many moments one could single out, and even the quiet ones are great. The lecture hall scene is a master class in delivering a ton of exposition in a compelling way (credit to screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan). The map room scene keeps the audience enthralled by simply showing Ford spending four minutes figuring something out — nearly all the storytelling is done on his face. Karen Allen’s savvy and punchy Marion Ravenwood was ahead of her time as strong action co-lead. And the truck chase remains one of the best stunt sequences ever shot. What does it say about the evolution of Hollywood filmmaking that the Indy film made with practical effects — aside from some dated climactic animation — and for the least amount of money (just $20 million/$78 million with inflation) visually remains the saga’s strongest and most grounded-looking entry? Of course, top men — and women — were working on this one.
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